Longtime DPW mainstay George Tommy Lee was honored by his department and the Select Board at the Dec. 12 meeting.
Lee, who has been with the department for 35 years, most recently as Central Maintenance Superintendent, is retiring at the end of the month.
Brian White, the new DPW chief with the upcoming retirement of John Sanchez, said he’s disappointed he won’t be able to work with Lee for too much longer. He called him a “true professional,” and added: “You won’t find a harder worker. A great leader for all the young guys.”
While Sanchez sent regrets that he could not attend the meeting in person, White read a heart-felt tribute from him to Lee.
“Tommy will retire leaving behind a fleet which is the envy of towns around us,” Sanchez wrote.
In his letter, Sanchez ran down some of Lee’s history with the town.
Lee began his career in Burlington in 1987 as a heavy equipment motor operator for the DPW. Sanchez said when he met Lee in 2006, he was starting in the cemetery division following seven years with the fire department as an emergency vehicle repair technician. He said when the Central Maintenance Superintendent position became open in 2011, it was an easy choice.
Lee was the first superintendent appointed during Sanchez’s tenure, he noted.
Although conditions were tough at the DPW’s old repair facility, Sanchez said Lee took the job very seriously and improved all aspects of the operation with the creation of a maintenance schedule for all town vehicles and equipment, along with the implementation of a vehicle replacement program.
Sanchez said he is grateful Lee got to see the Central Maintenance Facility built during his tenure because he was instrumental in the design process and outfitting of the new maintenance garage.
But Lee’s dedication to the job stood out most to Sanchez.
In 2021, Lee informed Sanchez that he planned on retiring in the summer of 2022. Sanchez asked if he could stick around until the end of the calendar year so all winter equipment preparations would be complete prior to the new person taking over this division.
“For the DPW, winter begins in the summer,” Sanchez wrote. “Plows need to get repaired, sanders need to be inspected and repaired, and trucks and equipment need to be made ready for the upcoming season. Without hesitation, Tommy agreed to stay longer.”
Sanchez thanked Lee’s family Lorraine, Tommy Jr. and Josh for “sharing him with us all these years. There were probably a lot of missed meals, missed games, missed wrestling matches when he had to come back to Burlington to attend to emergencies.”
Lee, known to be a modest man who avoids the spotlight, got the attention of Select Board member Mike Runyan. “I’m slightly surprised Tom’s actually here in attendance with us tonight,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t think he came willingly. He’s a modest guy in this type of setting. It’s not the case when he’s turning wrenches and so forth.”
Runyan added that he’s always pleased to recognize DPW employees because oftentimes the department does not get the headlines such as police and fire.
“You’re equally as important to this town for the work you do. So I want to say, Tom, thanks for 35 years of service to this town,” Runyan said.
Board member Joe Morandi also pointed out the important work Lee did in the creation of the new DPW facility.
“The list can go on and on, you’ve been an absolute asset to this town. … I wish you all the best in retirement and I hope that you go up there, ride those 4-wheelers, and do whatever you want to do up there in that North Country of Maine.”
Board member James Tigges said he always enjoyed talking with Lee because he was always “forward thinking … for the town and the DPW.”
He added that Lee and his crew always got extra mileage out of the town’s fleet.
“That’s a huge asset to the town to be able to get more out of the vehicle than expected,” he said.
Town Administrator Paul Sagarino, said, “He’s always a pleasure to work with. He always has a smile on his face. He has the respect of the people he’s in charge of and the department always does a tremendous job. He’s going to be a difficult one to replace.”
Select Board Chairman Nick Priest, said, “This town wouldn’t be where it is without you and people like you working in this town.”
For 35 years, Priest said, a simple thank you is not going to be enough.
“But on behalf of the 27,000-plus residents of the Town of Burlington, on behalf of this board, please understand that we truly mean it when we say thank you for everything that you’ve ever done on behalf of this town, it means the world to us,” Priest said.